GOP chairman seeks Obama-era communications, docs on Russian interference

GOP chairman seeks Obama-era communications, docs on Russian interference
© Getty

The Republican chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee is pressing officials to unearth Obama-era documents used to brief Congress in September 2016 on Russian attempts to interfere in the presidential election.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonAmbassador Gordon Sondland arrives on Capitol Hill for testimony in impeachment inquiry GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate Sondland could provide more clues on Ukraine controversy MORE (R-Wis.) is asking the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for documents used to prepare officials for the 2016 briefing, during which he says Obama administration officials assured lawmakers they “had the matter under control.” 

The documents requested by Ron Johnson include communications among then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, then-FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyState cites 38 people for violations in Clinton email review GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate Graham on Syria: Trump appears 'hell-bent' on repeating Obama's mistakes in Iraq MORE, former President Obama’s homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco and other U.S. officials, according to a letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump confirms Rick Perry to step down as Energy secretary Trump says acting Homeland Security chief McAleenan will step down Activists to demonstrate at ICE headquarters after Cameroonian immigrant dies in custody MORE on Wednesday and obtained by The Hill.

All three individuals participated in the September 2016 briefing referenced by Ron Johnson.

“The briefers … assured Members that the Administration had the matter under control and asked for Congress’ help in reinforcing public confidence in the election,” Ron Johnson wrote, adding that he is requesting the documents in order “to understand the threat as it existed at the time of the briefing.” 

Among his requests, the GOP lawmaker is asking the department to produce all documents used to prepare Jeh Johnson to brief lawmakers at the September briefing, as well as all documents produced by Homeland Security before the briefing about Moscow’s attempts to meddle in the election. 

Ron Johnson is also after communications between U.S. officials, including Comey and other FBI officials, about the briefing. 

“Please produce all documents and communications between or among Secretary [Jeh] Johnson or any DHS employee, Director Comey or any FBI employee, or Lisa Monaco or any National Security Council employee referring or relating to briefing Members of Congress on the Russian Government’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election on September 8, 2016,” he wrote. 

The letter comes following an April committee hearing on cybersecurity that focused in part on the cyber threat to U.S. elections. Homeland Security has disclosed that Russian hackers targeted digital election-related systems in 21 states ahead of the 2016 vote, and in a small number of cases breached systems. None of the systems targeted were involved in actual vote tallying, officials said.

At that hearing, Ron Johnson expressed concern about Russian attempts to interfere in the election, but emphasized that the threat to actual voting machines and other digital systems should not be blown “out of proportion” so as to undermine confidence in the security of the voting process. 

He also brought up the September 2016 briefing when questioning a Homeland Security cyber official.

“The thrust of that briefing without providing any classified information was Russia's attempt at this. They've attempted to hack into voter files, but the administration has this under control,” Ron Johnson said at the April hearing. “They're in contact with the states and the main message we want you as members of Congress, because it's so important in terms of the stability of our democracy, is to let the public know that we've got this covered and that the election in November will be legitimate.”

He asked Jeanette Manfra, the Homeland Security official, if that was an “accurate” characterization of the briefing. Manfra replied that it was, saying the officials “laid out the risk as they saw it, the intelligence as we saw it.”

The letter indicates an effort by Ron Johnson to gain more details on the government’s understanding of threats to U.S. election systems leading up to the 2016 vote. Ron Johnson has separately launched an investigation into communications between FBI officials after the Justice Department inspector general unearthed text messages between two officials in which they disparaged President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE before the election. Those officials were once assisting special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE's investigation into Russian interference. 

The U.S. intelligence community released its unclassified assessment detailing Russia’s multifaceted campaign to interfere in the vote in January 2017, judging that Moscow aimed to undermine U.S. democracy, damage Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonState cites 38 people for violations in Clinton email review Trump campaign to hold rallies in Mississippi, Kentucky Biden struggles to reverse fall MORE and help Trump win the White House. Homeland Security did not reveal the scope of Russian targeting of state election systems until months later, in June 2017. 

Ron Johnson set a deadline of June 20 for Homeland Security to respond to his request. Ranking member Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillIranian attacks expose vulnerability of campaign email accounts Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest MORE (D-Mo.) was copied on the letter.